When there are so many areas where we actually might want to stand up and fight for freedom and human dignity, it is a galling tragedy that US leaders are choosing to cry wolf at the wrong time and for the wrong goals.
While others think of the Caucasus and Crimea as locations of appalling Russian genocides, Russians think of Crimea as the place that western powers stole from them.
To compound that, the Russian people think they made great sacrifices to help win the second world war and in their view those sacrifices were all the more enormous because western powers delayed engaging the Nazis in Europe . . .
A positive strategic outcome was secured when the Soviet Union began to show cracks because George Bush senior had the restraint to avoid triumphalism. But after that the US and western leaders then took every excuse to rub salt in the wound and over-reach rather than seek a stable post-Soviet order.
This has been in evidence everywhere where Russia had interests that could align with the west’s, and instead of reaching an accommodation the west has tried to run the board. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq and so on.
In Europe as well, Nato acted as if we were setting things up to expand its sphere of influence with eastward installation of missile defence systems, and to eventually challenge Russia’s military presence in Crimea. What would we think of Russia installing missiles (even defensive) near the continental US?
The west has given substance to the charge that we never think about the long game and come to the party only long enough to break everything, enrage everybody and then leave.
Against this backdrop, the better move now might be to assure Russian leaders that their Crimean bases will be safe indefinitely and not subject to caprices of a new Ukrainian government or of Nato adventurism and eastward expansion.
There was a moment (and there may still be) a moment when the west could have recognised Russian interests and historical claims in Crimea and more broadly in its sphere of influence, and counselled the new Ukrainian leaders to promptly do the same. Freedom and dignity for Ukrainians could have been won in the bargain (and still may be) while giving up no more than what Russia already owned de facto or is prepared to take by brute force.
But that would require realism and a scintilla of strategic wisdom.